The state of American politics is dismal.
To begin with, there are no third choices. And, truthfully, there’s hardly a second one either.
If you had asked me prior to 2001, I would have echoed the long-held sentiment in American politics that there wasn’t a dime’s worth of difference between Republicans and Democrats. That the choice was between Tweedledum and Tweedledee. That both parties were fully owned corporate subsidiaries – the only difference being which corporate masters were at the helm.
Then Bush happened. The truth, of course, is that Bushism – regressivism – had been around for quite a while, at least since Reagan, but without the unholy combination of Rovian brashness, a national security fright, and all branches of the government being in the hands of the same set of scary monsters. In my book, this was something rather different – both in terms of scale and kind – and made for what appeared to be a substantial distinction between Democrats and Republicans for maybe the first time ever in the course of my life.
A distinction, yes, if only a sort of backhanded one, though. That is to say, the gap opened up purely because the Republicans moved so far to the right, not because of any progressive renaissance in the Democratic Party. In fact, the Democrats moved to their right as well, just not as far, not from the same starting place, and not all of them. And so, once the Texas Tornado moved to town, we got the incredibly irresponsible tax transfers (disingenuously labeled tax cuts), the insanely brutal Iraq war, neglect then exacerbation of global warming, and so on, with about half the Democrats in Congress going along for each of these rides.
That wasn’t a huge shock. Democrats have been in retreat since 1980, and the context from 2002 to 2006 was not one which particularly rewarded boldness or dissent. Since then, however, conditions have changed. George Bush’s job approval is starting to fall below the 30 percent mark with some consistency. His war and his credibility are completely shot. There is a lot of anger out there, and probably the only reason the movement for impeachment isn’t stronger is because many people figure it’s not worth it with ‘just’ a year and a half to go.
But also because even if you could take down Bush and Cheney, you’d be left with... Nancy Pelosi, leader of a Congress that has miraculously managed to be less popular than George Bush only five months into their term, demonized female Democrat from San Francisco (and therefore – hint, hint – probably a lesbian!, in addition to being, gulp, a liberal!), and something less than an inspiring political figure in terms of either substance or style. If Cheney is Bush’s insurance policy, Pelosi is both of theirs.
But I digress. How in the world could a Democratic Congress manage to earn a 23 percent favorability rating in just six short months, without even doing anything? Perhaps by not doing anything? Nothing, that is, except, of course capitulating on the single issue that enrages the American public the most, and that most explains the rout of 2006 that gave them their very majority. It was one thing for Democrats to melt like a snow cone in Riyadh when conditions were not terribly favorable to playing the role of principled opposition (although please don’t get me started on how failing to oppose on principle actually leads to a vicious cycle which encourages more violations of principle later). But this is something quite different.
The sad fact is that Democrats are frightened of the shadows of their shadows. On an overcast day. Which leads to the even sadder fact that American voters effectively have two bold selections from which to choose when they step into a voting booth. There is the truly disastrous party and then there is the merely embarrassing party. There is the party that is destroying when it isn’t pathetically bumbling, and then there is the party that facilitates whatever the other guys want (hey, you don’t even have to say ‘please’, either!). Tweedledee and Tweedledum, my handbag! In any given election, American voters can choose between really evil monsters, on the one hand, and a third-cup-out-of-the-same-depleted-tea-bag anemic approximation of evil monsters, on the other. Who says there’s no real choice in American politics?!
Karl Rove knows where on the human body one finds the jugular vein. (Hint to Democrats: it’s not located in the pinky finger, not that you’ve particularly attacked GOP pinkies, anyhow.) He and his ilk are completely and utterly unscrupulous about destroying any obstacles that block their attempts to obtain and wield power, and that certainly includes knocking over democracy, the Constitution, and truth, not to mention American soldiers and Iraqi citizens, should any of those have the bad fortune to find themselves on the wrong end of Dick Cheney’s bourbon-fueled shotgun.
The list of their power-seeking crimes is as big as George Bush’s personal library is small, but it is worthwhile to consider some of the highlights. Of course, the endless exploitation of 9/11 is highest on that list, with perhaps 9/11 itself at the top, depending on your conspiratorial cup of tea. It seems pretty clear that the presidential elections were stolen in 2000 and 2004, in the former case by employing the partisan majority of the highest court of ‘justice’ in the land to seize power. That alone is certainly one helluva set of seriously tawdry politics, for any polity calling itself a democracy.
Once in office, everything was politicized, in the most crass terms imaginable. Especially Iraq. My guess is that each of the principals in the Bush administration had their various reasons for wanting to invade, whether that was war profiteering, Likud puppeteering, Iraqi exile racketeering, Pentagon engineering, or anti-parental domineering. For Rove, though, it would seem that it was all about power (and some good old fashioned Democratic Party smearing). Thinking the war would be a piece of cake, I’m quite sure they believed that Iraq would help Bush in 2004, dominate domestic politics (e.g., Social Security plundering) and allow Republicans to establish the generational juggernaut that Professor Rove dreamed about late at night, up in his laboratory.
And so, for starters, they scheduled the war ‘authorization’ vote in October 2002, right before an election, one of the most crass displays imaginable of one of the most cynical ploys conceivable – that of exploiting national security issues for nakedly political purposes. From there it only went downhill. During that race, Rove and the GOP (almost none of whom, of course, had bothered to show up for duty in Vietnam) smeared Democratic Senator Max Cleland, a triple-amputee Vietnam vet, with advertisements morphing his face into that of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. Of course, politics has rarely been a sport for the feint of heart. Just the same, this sort of thing would never have happened a generation ago. Nixon would not have gone that far, and McCarthy was clobbered when he did.
What was Cleland’s alleged crime? Therein lies another tale of the politicization of national security. After 9/11, Democrats proposed the creation of a Department of Homeland Security in the federal government. Bush rejected the idea. Then he changed his mind, and all of a sudden it was his program, and if you didn’t vote for it, your face got morphed into bin Laden’s or Saddam’s. Never mind that the administration had meanwhile loaded the bill up with union-busting language, killing the labor rights of tens of thousands of federal employees and making them newly vulnerable to whatever management wanted to do to them. Provided morality is a foreign country to you, you have to admire this bit of engineering for its sheer craftsmanship in cynical politicking, not to mention its ultimate effectiveness. On the other hand, if you do have moral qualms about how politics is practiced, few prior episodes could be more nauseating.
We could go on and on because, frankly, they’ve gone on and on. Who could forget the swift-boating of John Kerry, or the Republican convention Band-Aids mocking his purple hearts? Who could forget Bush saying that al Qaeda was hoping the Democrats would win the elections of 2004 and 2006? These and other similar depredations are the actions of cancer cells on the parasites attached to the bloodsuckers affixed to the bottom-feeders in the skankiest swamp of American politics. Assuming we can survive it, this era will surely be known to history for the radical cheapening of the national discourse we’ve all witnessed firsthand.
Unfortunately, however, such tactics happen to be pretty effective. And especially so when the national press and the poorly-labeled opposition party cower in the corner rather than scream bloody murder at the degradation of American politics. So the GOP and its Rovian cancer have been ‘winning’ elections and, with rare exception, getting just about everything else they want, legislatively and otherwise. That is pretty much the very definition of success in politics, and so – unless you were fortunate enough that your mama raised you to have better manners – that’s, unfortunately, what you’re gonna do.